During his frequent trips to Israel in the 1980s, Holocaust survivor Sam Bloch would schedule a series of meetings with Holocaust organizations and fellow survivors.
One day he told his son-in-law Menachem Rosensaft — himself the son of Holocaust survivors — that remembering one old friend would take precedence over other meetings. They would skip some of that day’s itinerary. They would go spend some time with Gideon Hausner.
Hausner, who had earned fame as the lead prosecutor at the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, was by the 1980s retired, dealing with Parkinson’s disease and virtually unable to speak.
Rosensaft and his father-in-law spent an hour at Hausner’s Jerusalem apartment, Mr. Bloch doing most of the talking.
Rosensaft said Mr. Bloch, who died at 93 on Feb. 4 in his home in Rego Park, Queens, said of his long-standing friendship with Hausner: “Your friends are your friends forever, not just when it’s convenient, not just when it’s beneficial.”
Mr. Bloch, who served as a leader in several prominent Jewish organizations, was remembered this week as a loyal friend, a builder of institutions and a man who befriended prominent individuals like Elie Wiesel but maintained a common touch. He was a linguist fluent in a half-dozen languages, an author who penned more than two dozen memoirs and books of essays on the Shoah, a man who doted on his grandchildren and a survivor who never forgot his roots.
Mr. Bloch was “a minority” in the survivor community here, most members of which wanted to lose their accents, forget their recent past and “assimilate” into U.S. society, said attorney and author Thane Rosenbaum, a child of Holocaust survivors who often writes about Holocaust themes. “We had those for whom forgetting was their goal. In the first few decades [after the Holocaust] there was virtual silence. No one wanted to hear from them.”
Rosenbaum said Mr. Bloch was a member of a small group of survivors who sought “to be engaged in survivors’ affairs, to be involved in rebuilding [Jewish life]. Without them it’s not clear that there would have been much in the area of [communal] Holocaust memory.”
Mr. Bloch served for half a century as an executive at the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency, including several years as director of publications. He was born in Ivie, Poland, present-day Belarus, in a home where his father insisted he speak Hebrew, in addition to the community’s ubiquitous Yiddish.
His father was killed by one of the Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads; he and his mother and brother were sheltered for a while by sympathetic Christian farmers, then joined the Bielski Brigade partisan unit, in which young Mr. Bloch took part in fighting and sabotage activities.
After the war he, along with thousands of other survivors, were interned at the Bergen-Belsen DP camp, where he served, in his early 20s, as the youngest member of the Jewish Committee that governed the site, and met and married his wife, Lilly.
The Blochs came to the United States in 1949.
“He was one of the survivors who did not emerge bitter, introverted,” Rosensaft said. “He was motivated by creating a new family, creating Jewish life, preserving Holocaust memory.”
Mr. Bloch served in leadership positions in several Jewish and Israel-centered organizations, including Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People, the International Society for Yad Vashem, the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Survivors Associations, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, American Friends of the IDF, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.
“Memory strengthens our humanity, makes us better persons to one another, to our children.”
He played a key role in survivors’ gatherings in Jerusalem, Washington and Philadelphia.
“There is a danger that [the victims’ and survivors’] suffering and struggle will, with the passage of time, be forgotten,” he warned in a 2008 Yom HaShoah ceremony speech at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. “But as long as we live, and as long as there will be in this world free people who care, we the survivors, our children, and grandchildren will not stop telling and retelling our tales of martyrdom and resistance.”
“Memory strengthens our humanity, makes us better persons to one another, to our children,” he said in a New York Times interview. “Maybe we don’t smile or laugh, as others so, but we cherish our lives; they were so hard won.”
Mr. Bloch is survived by his wife, Lilly; a brother, Martin; two daughters, Jean and Gloria; three grandchildren, Jodi, David and Romy; and two great-grandchildren, Hallie and Jacob.
“Maybe we don’t smile or laugh, as others so, but we cherish our lives; they were so hard won.”
People like Mr. Bloch, said Rosenbaum, were able to strike a balance between devotion to their remembrance cause, and establishing new lives — and often, new families — in the United States.
Many writers who concentrated on the Shoah ended up committing suicide, because their awful memories overshadowed their personal lives. “They were too engaged in the memory,” Rosenbaum said. Mr. Bloch’s time spent with family and friends, he said, was a result of his remembrance activities. “It added to the richness of his second life.”